Giving credit for good credit

Published 10:26 pm Thursday, October 16, 2008

It didn’t make for a compelling headline, and it wasn’t even the most stimulating story from Wednesday’s City Council meeting, but the news that Suffolk’s credit ratings had improved was still reason to get excited.

City officials learned this week that Standard & Poor’s had upgraded Suffolk’s rating to “AA” from “A+.” Standard & Poor’s is one of the world’s leading providers of independent credit ratings, risk evaluations and investment research and data. Two other credit ratings companies, Moody’s and Fitch, kept their ratings unchanged for Suffolk. Moody’s, though, removed the “negative” outlook tag that was attached to its rating, and Fitch added a “positive” outlook tag to its own rating.

Remember that the upgrades and positive outlooks come in the midst of what could be the most significant economic upheaval in America since the Great Depression.

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With the stock markets losing trillions of dollars in value, with the housing market continuing to crumble, with the banking industry in freefall and with consumer confidence shaken to its core, any good economic news is worth cheering lately.

The fact that this good economic news involves the city’s stewardship of taxpayer dollars is worth cheering even louder. It was only recently that Chowan County taxpayers received a grim reminder that not all governing bodies are as careful with the money they collect from citizens.

Suffolk’s good ratings won’t bring any extra visitors to the city, and they probably won’t be the determining factor in new business locating here. When the city gets ready to borrow money for new projects, though, they will result in better interest rates and subsequently lower loan costs. Those lower costs then can be passed along to taxpayers. And when it comes to attracting economic development, there’s not much that’s more exciting than lower tax rates.

Suffolk’s stewardship of its credit rating may not be the kind of thing that people will talk about in front of the water cooler this week. Nonetheless, that stewardship will have lasting positive effects on every taxpayer in the city. Suffolk’s council and its finance officials deserve high praise for this week’s announcements.